Robotics experts at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the University of Washington (UW) came up with an idea to have a network of laboratories working on a common robotic platform they have developed in order to simplify software sharing, experiment replication, as well as to improve collaboration among major medical research laboratories throughout the United States.
“We decided to follow an open-source model, because if all of these labs have a common research platform for doing robotic surgery, the whole field will be able to advance more quickly”, said Jacob Rosen, associate professor of computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UCSC and principal investigator on the project.
Rosen and Blake Hannaford, director of the UW Biorobotics Laboratory, lead the research groups that developed the Raven I robotic surgery system, and later on Raven II. The Raven II includes a surgical robot with two robotic arms, a camera for viewing the operational field, and a surgeon-interface system that can be used for telesurgery that can be used for advanced robotic surgery techniques performed online because of the power and precision of the system.
Although most research on surgical robotics in the United States has focused on developing new software for various commercially available robotic systems, the researchers expect that by providing competing laboratories with the tools they have been developing for years in order to ensure faster progress in that field.
“Academic researchers have had limited access to these proprietary systems. We are changing that by providing high-quality hardware developed within academia. Each lab will start with an identical, fully-operational system, but they can change the hardware and software and share new developments and algorithms, while retaining intellectual property rights for their own innovations”, said Rosen, who leads Bionics Lab at UCSC.
A grant from the National Science Foundation funded their work to create seven identicalRaven II systems that can be networked together over the Internet for collaborative experiments. The researchers have also developed a Raven IV surgical robotics system with four robotic arms and two cameras which enable collaboration between two surgeons that can connect to the system via Internet from separate locations.